WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court on Tuesday allowed the Trump administration to go ahead with its plan to restrict military service by transgender people while court challenges continue.
The high court split 5-4 in allowing the plan to take effect, with the court's five conservatives greenlighting it and its four liberal members saying they would not have.
The Trump administration had urged the justices to take up cases about the plan directly, but the court declined for now. Those cases will continue to move through lower courts.
Until a few years ago service members could be discharged from the military for being transgender. That changed under President Barack Obama. The military announced in 2016 that transgender individuals already serving in the military would be allowed to serve openly. And the military set July 1, 2017 as the date when transgender individuals would be allowed to enlist.
But after President Donald Trump took office, the administration delayed the enlistment date, saying the issue needed further study. While that study was ongoing, the president tweeted in late July 2017 that the government would not allow "Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military." He later directed the military to return to its policy before the Obama administration changes.
Groups representing transgender individuals sued, and the Trump administration lost early rounds in those cases, with courts issuing nationwide injunctions barring the administration from altering course. The Supreme Court on Tuesday lifted those preliminary injunctions.
In March 2018, the Trump administration announced that after studying the issue it was revising its policy. The new policy generally bars transgender individuals from serving unless they serve "in their biological sex" and do not seek to undergo a gender transition.
The policy has an exception for transgender troops who relied on the Obama-era rules to begin the process of changing their gender, allowing them to continue to serve. The military said last year that over 900 men and women have done so.